God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

pensées of a Catholic priest

A day at the conference..

6 am is a good time for a quick email review session before breakfast and bus transfer to the Convention Center downtown.  At 8.40 am the plenary session starts going on till 10.30 am and covering important topics. Today it was the question of prevention under the headline “turning the tide”.  11 am meeting with a group organized by the International AIDS Society for a review of the conference so far and an exchange amongst delegates. After that a brief meeting with a possible partner before heading to the next appointment with a doctor and priest from Hawaii who considers to work in Africa after retirement. What are the conditions for such an idea, what is possible, what is needed?
Further networking and revisiting some of the booths for more information intake before at 6.30 pm the next event starts with Stephen Lewis, the former adviser to Kofi Annan on HIV/AIDS in Africa. As usual he finds clear words on the situation and one wishes for more straight forward talk on the conference.
At 8.45 the bus is bringing us back to the hotel in Arlington.
And after another check on the emails, it is time to sort out everything for tomorrows day. Planing is everything, workshops, talks and networking needs coordination to succeed in having a successful day. But until then some rest is needed…

IAS Research Meeting

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sometimes it hurts… Another day @ the conference

Today, the second day of the conference, is my focal point more on HIV and faith-based organizations. So the day starts early with an interview for the Catholic “domradio” in Cologne. Next to networking with people of this field I also read some comments about the conference and one got my attention immediately. It is written by Dr P. B. and published not only on his blog but also on the internet news of kath.net, a more right-wing Catholic news website in the German language.
The headline “what really helps against new infections” got as said my attention and already the first sentence of the article gave the answer: “With the simple approach to live chaste till marriage and then be faithful to the partner within marriage 99% of all risk factors are eliminated”.
Wow, I thought really impressive. And I guess with a similar strategy can we can empty our prisons as everybody has to remain honest and non-violent instead of stealing or murdering someone and the problem is 99% solved. The logic of the article culminates in the argument, that people become infected because they don’t listen to the pope – and mentions Africa and specially Catholic areas on the continent where such prevention work has great success.

Such argumentation makes me speechless, but I was comforted through a podium in the afternoon where a pastor from Malawi told us about his experience in seeing HIV and AIDS as a challenge to come out of our comfort zones church normally provides and to give answers needed ending stigma and discrimination. He also was very critical of certain forms of development aid European or US style: “Africans can think of their own” , so the pastor and the audience underlined it with laughter and applause. An US American pastors wife told us from her experience working in Rwanda and a Thai monk about the great work, he is doing on the level of interfaith. He and his fellow clergyman, monks and imams are also looking for those caring for people living with HIV and AIDS. A humbling experience just to listen how those people gave witness about their calling to get involved in the battle against the pandemic.

This is what we need in our churches, mosques, synagogues and temples: people who believe honestly that HIV and AIDS is a challenge, not only for a personal life, but for the way we believe, we pray, we worship, we see our brothers and sisters. Yes, we need those people in our churches, mosques, synagogues and temples who are not afraid to open up, network beyond the borders of faith and denomination or religion. We need people who are simply not afraid to listen to their calling which overcomes human boundaries and is driven by the unconditional love towards their fellow neighbors.

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, Networking, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Obamacare, turn the tide and enthusiasm @ AIDS Conference

Sometimes it is only one speech, one moment in time, and one can feel energized again. Sometimes it is just one speech, one moment in time and all tiredness is gone and one starts to focus again. For me, this moment in time happened this morning at the Plenary Session of the World AIDS Conference. Still tired from the long journey I listened to three keynote speaker which really got my mind going.

Introduced by the Nobel Price Laureate Francoise Barre-Sinoussi from France who was instrumental in discovering the HI virus, the Director of the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institute of Health (USA), Anthony S Fauci gave an overview where we are standing in the moment and why we are close to turning the tide of HIV/AIDS. He caught the attention of the audience in describing how sciences and community approach must go together and laid grounds how all facets of prevention and treatment, outreach and bio-approach can take the next steps in eradicating HIV and giving a whole new generation a chance to grow up without the treat of the pandemic.

Next was Phill Wilson, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute in Washington – black, gay and HIV positive. His charismatic speech described the plight of black Americans – specially also in the Washington area, where the prevalence rate amongst those with dark skin color are as high as in some areas of South Africa. He made it also very clear to the audience what “Obama-care” means for those US Americans without an expensive health insurance. I felt ashamed listening to his very personal stories thinking that the US American Catholic Bishops attacked the new health care system because amongst others family planing is included in Obama’s approach. Was there ever a thought of balancing all the “Catholic question marks” against the benefits for those, whose lives or deaths are depending on this new law?

Next Hillary R Clinton, who delivered a clear message that after 25 years and the last World AIDS Conference held in the USA in San Francisco her country is now more than ever committed to turn the tide and assist in having a next generation without fear of HIV and AIDS. She also declared her very solidarity to Melinda Gates and announced additional funds of her government for family planing but also circumcision and other projects.

All speakers the morning made it clear that the moment has come to combine all efforts to push the syndrome back, to use all tools to reduce the transmission to the magic “zero”. But also all acknowledged that there will be still quite some time till this goal is reached. But until then, those lesser and lesser in number, who get infected in the coming generation, should be able to receive treatment and support without any discrimination or stigmatization. And it was made clear that this means that all involved from community outreach via faith-based organizations till governments to reflect how one deals with those most in danger of contracting HIV: gay people, drug addicts, prostitutes. And the question remained open during the rest of the session as a challenge to all concerned: What does it mean to go into those fields many people feel uncomfortable to speak about? And specially for me as a Catholic priest remains that question: How do we deal with those moral minefields in today’s atmosphere of theology and pastoral care?

A lot to think of for the first day of the conference and the day has not ended yet…

Turning the tide – now..

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, Medical and Research, Networking, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

… what an insight…

Coming closer to the World AIDS Conference, you can read in all Catholic and specially more right-wing Catholic articles about the conference that the expert of Caritas Internationalis, Msgr Robert Vitillo proclaimed that condoms don’t solve the problem of AIDS.  I am amazed and it reminds me lots of sermons I have heard in my life where questions are asked or statements are attacked which nobody really ever had in mind. So I am not sure what drives the media to repeat in sensational ways a statement nobody is anyhow interested in or has ever claimed to be the only solution to the pandemic. Well, it might be that there is the intention to show that the anti-condom Catholic teaching is at the end the right point of view when it comes to AIDS. And it seems that repeating this “insight” makes it one day coming true…
The battle against the pandemic needs all tools we have at hands and when we will look back at the pandemic once the tide is turned we as the church will feel ashamed for rejecting one of the most important tools for “here and now” to prevent new infections. And we might even laugh to see how important that little bit of rubber was, so much so that moral theologian could get into trouble because of it. And I am sure God might laugh too…  –  but we all in the church have to take responsibility for those having followed the rules of the church and got into deadly trouble as a consequence. Life is precious and we are not allowed to bargain with it as cost for a teaching which we all know can and will and has changed over times.

Filed under: General, HIV Prevention, Networking, Reflection, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Arrogance, Condoms and Stupidity

As usual I read through all the headlines of news various news agencies and news services send to my email box.  Even though the news are from all around the world and from totally different topics I am interested in, sometimes one can draw lines between the different headlines and it makes sense or bring at least some meaning to these combinations. To give an example:
The new head of the congregation of faith demanded yesterday the resignation of Markus Löning in Germany. He is not only a Facebook user but also the representative of the German government for human rights. On his Facebook page he posted: to stupid to understand science – then try religion. A clear insult, so felt Bishop Müller and stated, that the man is not right for the task he is asked to perform by the German government. The entry is meanwhile deleted by Löning.

Well, right I though first of all watch out, Facebook can be a dangerous place and easy bring someone into trouble, but coming to the core of the matter: faith and science should be compatible – they are both ways of discovering God’s great plan with us and everything living on this planet.

Reading on I discovered an interview of a very Christian radio station with a Bishop in South Africa, debating the difficulties of Christian Faith and African tradition and also the differences between different tribes. Actually very sensitive answers from the Bishop till the question of HIV and AIDS arises. Of course no question about HIV without the “c” question and the good bishop turns on the heat:
I think the international community is always arrogant to us Africans. They come with readymade solutions. They don’t ask. They know what is right for us as Africans and the condoms are part of that arrogance. I think because people, in their minds, they think that condoms prevent the sickness. It helps spread it because every young person even those who are not aware of sexual activity are taught in the school about this condom in sexual education. They try it and that is why you still have a high rate of people being infected with this AIDS epidemic.

Well, besides all the bad feeling of the bishop against the international community: Science tells us clearly that condoms don’t help spread the pandemic and looking into the very area he is talking about earlier. It is exactly this area where condoms brought down teenager pregnancy almost to zero which means that students can complete their school and have a fair chance in life to get a proper education. Of course condoms are only part of the solution and changing the hearts and minds and behaviour of the youngsters has to be added, but unfortunately this is a long-term goal and we need the students alive and in good health and with a good education to be able to achieve behaviour change.

This interview also let me think of the situation in Uganda and other countries, where right-wing evangelical preachers advise government and tell them, what it means to be “African”. And there nobody is complaining that this is done by outsiders, mainly US Americans.

So, drawing lines between all those news what remains as a conclusion to the reader?

First, I realise that Facebook is read in the highest circles of the church or at least summaries are being brought to their attention.
Secondly, and this is much mor serious, the pain and the feeling of being overpowered by the international community – I guess by the white international community  – has to be taken seriously and into account when we talk about the solutions of problems like HIV and AIDS but also many others.
And thirdly there must be much more exchange between science and faith to bring both on the same level so that they can see in each other eye without feeling superior or inferior.
And last but not least there is more to see to the “African identity” and I agree, the world financial and economic system we have is not always listening or even giving time to consider other concepts of living and the experience of reality.

Quite a lot to think of and to consider for one morning’s news intake…

Filed under: General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, Networking, Reflection, Society and living environment, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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